Adaptor: Ted Hughes
Director: Blanche McIntyre
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
If you’re a theatregoer there are certain types of play that you feel obliged to experience. As the Greeks pretty much introduced theatre to the western world their tragedies are high on the list; but this doesn’t make them easy to watch. Aeschylus’ The Oresteia, with themes including the development of democracy and the introduction of trial by jury, has greater contemporary relevance than most but it is still an adult portion.
At the conclusion of the Trojan War, Queen Clytemnestra (Lyndsey Marshal) deceives the citizens by promising an end to violence and murder for murder. She lays a trap for her husband Agamemnon (Gary Shelford) in revenge for his sacrificing their daughter to appease the Gods. But murder does lead to murder as their son Orestes (Simon Trinder) also sets out for vengeance.
The adaptation by Ted Hughes is admirably clear and down to earth. Yet the brevity of the play (it runs for 100 minutes without interval) compresses the action so that incident piles upon incident and corpses build up in way that becomes unintentionally funny. It is very hard to relate to characters who are slaughtered minutes after they are introduced.
There is a core cast of six actors who perform more than one rôle each. This can be confusing particularly in the case of Simon Trinder who is introduced in one scene as the murderer of Agamemnon and in the next as his avenger. The producers provide a handy printed ‘who’s who/family tree’ yet you can’t help but feel that such an aid should not be necessary.
Director Blanche McIntyre develops audience recognition by way of presentation rather than through the characters. There is a strong atmosphere of ‘it could be you’ hanging over the play. The cast use regional accents and throughout the show the house lights rise so that the audience become part of the judgemental citizenry.
Surprisingly the device of the chorus, rather than being artificial and distancing, becomes a vital part of the process by which the audience is drawn into the play. Members of the chorus come from the Manchester community and the Manchester Metropolitan Chorus. They wear modern casual clothes and enter holding their coats as if they have just walked in off the street. They constantly leave the stage and speak, as if on our behalf, from the audience. When Hedydd Dylan, as the Watchman, is hoisted aloft on a swing she ascends with the giddy look of a child at a fairground.
As is usually the case with productions at HOME the design, by Laura Hopkins is both imaginative and ravishing. A simple slate grey bead curtain that goes up and up as it to the heavens gives a real sense of the oppressive effect of capricious Gods watching the citizens. Agamemnon’s entrance to his home, usually upon such a rich carpet that his arrogance offends the Gods, is here achieved by the Chorus sweeping a path through the ashes that litter the stage. The vengeful Furies/ Kindly Ones are wonderful grotesque creations dressed all in black with their faces hidden by masses of hair and bodies twisted into painful poses.
The brevity of the production makes it feel compressed; at times almost a summary rather than a full version of the play, which hinders appreciation. Yet this version of The Oresteia remains beautifully presented in a manner that makes clear the classic themes remain relevant in our present-day.
Runs until 14th November 2015